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Consumers Expectations For Brand Leadership Has Changed

Jacob Steinfield, Assistant Account Executive
May 7, 2020

An acronym soup for breakfast: COVID, WCS, and KPIs

It does not look like our distancing days are going to go anywhere soon, but even when mobility comes back – and we rise dramatically from the couch – consumer relationships with brands will have been transformed.

There's some debate over habit-forming timelines. Conventionally, 21 days was the magic number needed for permanent changes to occur (based on research published in Maxwell Maltz's 1960 bestseller Psycho-Cybernetics), but more contemporary researchers have found the length closer to 66 days. Either way, our COVID journey will certainly surpass both, and we have undoubtedly developed new attitudes and conditions that will remain as the world slides back into normalcy.

This is especially true in consumer expectations for brands as embedded community leaders, given the instantaneous pivot to solemn commitments to employees & customers in response to this emergency. There is a new standard for purpose from these entities: The uncountable statements of “togetherness” and ventures for collective healing will not be allowed to merely dissipate in the post-COVID era (which will not be such a binary distinction either). Learning from those who have delivered effectively and creatively in these conditions (see Light, Coors) will be imperative as consumers are more inclined than ever to use their buying power on companies whose actions and values align with their own – and uncommitted to companies who merely shouted for everyone to remember they existed. As Adweek reports from social psychologist Hillary Haley, “[People] don’t just want to be helped, they want to provide help themselves, and they’ll reward brands that act as facilitators.”

Take Spotify for example. This week, they launched their Music Relief project, with a new Artist Fundraising feature that gives listeners the option to donate to their favorite artist directly or a relief initiative of their choice. Donations will be matched by Spotify up to $10M, and users are given immense freedom to provide much-needed support.

Spotify

During this time, our client Eastern Bank has also successfully delivered on the values of their long-standing Join Us For Good brand campaign. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, they have pledged $10 million in aid to those most affected, became founding donors and administrators for the $25 million Massachusetts COVID-19 Relief Fund, and provided pathways for people to join them in giving efforts along the way. The brand has deep roots in local volunteering and service, with this additional leadership making it clear that commitment to their communities is not new or temporary, but endemic to their brand’s DNA. 

Brands & marketers must consequently re-calibrate the levers they use to turn communication and brand identity into desired outcomes.

This brings us to an important consonant jumble: WCS – What Constitutes Success?

Achieving a quantifiable level of success is not a new challenge in the advertising space. The rise of digital marketing made the wide world of impact measurement a much more complicated game. Near infinite opportunities for companies to connect with people, ever-consuming throughout their day, creates a dizzying array of data points to synthesize. No longer is a sales lift or focus group – both limited by bias – the only ways to measure effects. We can see the resonance in real-time with brand recall and changes in buyer habits, and instantly tinker, AB test, and iterate. This can, however, restrict the horizon of our improvement targets in the endless pursuit of immediate incremental benefit. It is important to take a step back from your anchored campaign norms to identify larger potential opportunities, especially as messaging expectations change.  

Customers are less motivated than ever by undiluted sales pitches or vague statements of pandemic camaraderie, growingly conditioned against them, and capable of tuning out through ad blockers and nearby alternative devices. Attention needs to be truly earned, and people react positively and strongly to premises that are relevant, important, and authentic to them – especially when those messages are tied to action beyond the advertising or purely-commercial realm.  

As The Atlantic’s Amanda Mull reports, “[Leadership] vacuums have often been filled by brands that see social issues as an opportunity to connect with customers — especially younger ones, who want to believe that there’s a right way to spend their money.” While it may be challenging in our current circumstances to rationalize, brands are on the right track trying to compel outcomes that benefit society. In fact, consumers have growingly defined brands themselves by their social practices and philanthropic priorities.

Cooperation opportunities are key for marketers to validate brands as forces of communal good, but there is a huge opportunity and need for brands to give more direction in achieving such results. While hope and community belonging are fabulous intentions, the onslaught of purpose-based messaging inundating our timelines and networks with solemn background music often do not give specific, convincing instruction to achieve these goals. This is where marrying commonly-shared desired outcomes to internal metrics of improvement can create business objectives that are sincerely important to the customer – like the aforementioned Coors activation. Coors raised spirits with a unifying metric of donating 500,000 beers, while also focusing on definitive financial impressions by contributing all merchandise profits to COVID relief efforts. 

Cause-based marketing may pose difficult questions for ROI, but we can use our skills in translating data-driven insights to make cause-related messages as productive as our commerce-related ones. 

To do so, marketers must re-define their KPIs – Key Performance Indicators

Good marketers understand that true ROI is based on the lifetime value of your relationship with the customer, and the positive externalities that being in their network entails. To achieve such fruitful relationships, marketing initiatives must find a compelling way to demonstrate not just shared values, but a common purpose, all while facilitating ways to connect the two. Consumers understand that advertising is aimed to drive action, and when that action is one they consider worthy, it creates an association of aligned incentives.

Considering the enormous challenges in global health, environmental protection, and human rights, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who wouldn’t be compelled to think favorably of a campaign intentionally designed to improve these worthy outcomes. Converting favorable perception into action can be a difficult task, but brands can ignite such behavior by communicating KPIs that are meaningful to both the company and consumer. 

Conveying a measurable definition of success for your civic engagement program helps alleviate public concern about motives. Non-monetary KPIs can also be constructive, such as donated cans of non-perishables, volunteer hours, or shelters built. These not only create attainable goals, but valuable bonds for the company and consumers to work together toward. 

To build this new type of relationship with customers, brands often partner with philanthropic organizations that have endemic popular trust. It’s a form of assuaging concerns about the integrity of their efforts. However, with hundreds of brands flooding the market with cookie-cutter COVID-19 responses, such partnerships alone cannot galvanize when consumer individuality is not recognized. Advertising is often powerful because it speaks directly to a specific need, but when a sea-of-sameness permeates throughout, that influence dissipates.

Whatmomslove

To break this mold, AMP helped its client GIANT Food Stores launch the national #MoreForAll campaign, aimed to mitigate panic shopping by spreading direct, actionable instructions and driving awareness through digital conversations. Across media platforms, and with influencer help, local individuals instructed followers on ways to extend the life of their produce and urged them to be considerate of their peers. AMP was able to measure overwhelmingly positive sentiment and engagement, the topic clearly resonating with followers, and GIANT was able to see definitive reductions in over-buying.

Screen Shot 2020-05-06 at 12.10.32 PM

Even when the COVID-19 era subsides, there is a heightened expectation and opportunity for companies to continue to support communities. Large organizations can use their scale and connections to create value beyond their immediate spheres of influence, and engrain themselves positively into the public consciousness. When normalcy returns, brands should look at the successes of these charitable causes moving forward, and see that ROI can be earned and sustained with marketing that optimizes its positive impact on consumers’ daily lives. 

Key Takeaways

  1. Brands are increasingly defined by their conduct as community leaders and responses to social needs
  2. Leading firms are developing stronger relationships with consumers by empowering buyers to make a philanthropic difference with their spending
  3. Cause-marketing is most effective when campaign KPIs are also pertinent to consumer ideals, and messaging clearly illustrates how specific actions by both parties can catalyze an outcome that is mutually rewarding.

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